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Race to the Sun: in the heart of the peloton


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Race to the Sun: in the heart of the peloton

Ivan Blanco

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Yellow, a hashtag, cycling and photos… that’s how you win a VIP weekend with Mavic at one of the first and most exciting races of every new cycling season, the Paris-Nice.

Ok ok, not really so simple, add to it a dash of luck, special star alignment and sprinkle it with some cycling passion, ah, and posting an Instagram photo with the hashtag #RaceToTheSun; look right. That’s how I won a 3 day weekend with transport, hotel, food and a limited edition Paris-Nice cycling kit to live this French competition like never before.

But, however you cook it, I feel myself blessed with such an opportunity and together with the other 5 winners, I think we can agree that it was one of the most unforgettable experiences in our lives. Apart of the goodies, we had the chance of a lifetime to live a Pro race from the very heart: 193,5 km from Aubagne to Fayence and stage 6 of this year’s Paris-Nice.

But first things first, meeting the Mavic guys and fellow winners, usually you have to travel by either train or plane, to get to the different stage races that average between 150 to 200 km each, unless… of course, you do it like the Pros, racing. So it’s not something you have at the doorsteps of your home… you remember that previous dash of luck, well, with me living in Nice, and the 8 day competition finishing in this same city, contrary to most winners, my journey to our Rendezvous didn’t involve airplanes, but only 10 minutes… walk!

First encounters, Jacques from Mavic and event organizer, Anthony from Wales, the Greenest of the bunch, Maude from Cannes, self-proclaimed pain in the ass but still delightful companion, Jean-Pascal IT guy our French man (say it with some French accent for more authenticity) and Valentin student, long night gamer from near Nancy, and the kid in da bunch. So we only had one more for the 6 pack of lucky Mavic winners… Scott, from Scotland, nope, that’s no joke, true thing :) but with Lee as his first name, as a Police Raid officer, yes, the kind of things we only see in movies, you’d better do things right or he may smash your doors and windows.

Jean-Pascal, Valentin, Me, Maude, Lee & Anthony

As cinematic as this may sound, due to yet, another strike of a French transport company… if you think I'm exaggerating, then come live one year and you’ll learn that transport strikes happen more often than you changing gears on your bike… So it was that, with no previous info, we thought he was Dutch, because his diverted flight came from Amsterdam to Paris and from Paris to Marseille. He later told me that he had left around 8 that same morning to fly over to Manchester, from there to Amsterdam, then Paris and arrive in Marseille around 8 in the evening… he almost could have come faster cycling, however, I guess in the end it was well worth it.

Once all the winners reunited, we had one very big table for us 6 and the rest of the Mavic,  to meet each other and fuel ourselves for the long journey ahead. We’ve got to meet Peyo (sorry mate if I got it wrong, no clue how it’s written) who is in charge of the pro rider’s shoes; Mavic provides custom shoes to several pro riders from the World Series. We also met no one else than the boss, Francois, who sat just in front of me and is in charge of Mavic’s marketing and also one heck of a rider… more on this in my next post. Others at the table were Antonio, Yves, Patrick and all the Mavic guys who make neutral assistance possible in the Pro races.

When a rider looks up and sees yellow, they know that they’re in good hands
— Mike Wilson, Mavic Brand Manager, Americas

For the little history anecdote, back in 1972, one of the team managers had his car broken down at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, to which Mavic’s chairman Bruno Gormand lent him his car. So simple, but magic, was how the idea of neutral assistance was born and making its official debut one year later, precisely, same as our adventure, at the Paris-Nice Race.

With the excitement growing more and more, what best than celebrate our luck with… beers! Anthony, Lee and me took away one sleep hour to get to know each other a bit more and cheer to our common cycling passion.

Waking up in the same hotel as the teams Fortunueo Vital Concept and Direct Energie, who has future climber’s jersey winner Lilian Calmejane in their ranks, we couldn’t be more immersed in the cycling world as this. With a quick breakfast and seeing how much preparation goes for the teams, which we saw working hard the night before too, and how immaculately polished their cars are prepared day, think of it cleaner than your fridge after doing a 200 km ride… seeing this was quite striking and makes you realize how much effort is needed behind each race.

Maude took an early morning sprint and greeted us with thousands of goodies she received on a little team bus walk, she even came with the climber jersey winner’s flower bouquet… sometimes, being the only girl in the bunch has it’s advantages. So it was that after this sweet appetizer we went to the stage’s starting grid in Aubagne and toured the buses and riders that were doing their little warm ups here and there. Pulling in with the Mavic car and park just in front of the start was already a unique experience in itself.

I’ve also had a casual and emotional moment getting back to the starting grid, I’ve met Antonio, a fellow 83 year old Spaniard from Murcia who lives in France since 50 years and due to health problems can’t travel back… he was looking for Contador and we obviously spoke Spanish, which made him so happy that even shed some tears of emotion because he found a fellow national and could talk in his mother tongue. With no real relation to cycling, it was truly one of the most memorable moments of the day.

With little time to spare though, and the last riders signing on the usual race day log, we had to run over to the Mavic Assistance cars to get ready before the start and join the very heart of the peloton. I was in one of the 2 cars in front to assist the echappees when their sports managers weren’t there, our hosts were Yves and Antonio, the latter is quite an entity within Mavic and the cycling world itself, not only was he part of the Spanish Team Kas in the 80’s, he’s working since 25 years with Mavic… heck, that’s a quarter of a century supporting the yellow brand!

With this and other stories they told us, hearing the race radio and standings during it, and being in the very middle of it, you start to realize how much a Pro sport that has no stadiums, really involves. Both in organization and human effort, it is a remarkable feat that sometimes extends to almost 200 km that needs everyone’s attention and precision.

Landscapes, breakouts, water and more

A very very early breakout of some 10 riders gave us the chance to follow them and even assist with fresh water several times because all their sport’s managers were too far away. This was obviously one of the highlights of the day and gave me some of the most immersive photos; see left.

Quick sandwich and dessert in the car, courtesy of Yves and Antonio, we charged our batteries for one very exciting race. The echappee kept a very high pace all throughout the race giving us the chance to see them several times, especially on narrow roads where Mavic’s neutral assistance cars or motorbikes go the closest in order to assist not just one rider.

Unfortunately when we arrived to the finish line, we couldn’t witness Simon Yates’ epic ‘wall’ conquering at Fayence’s arrival with almost 20 seconds to the second. Equaling the overwhelming speed of the pro riders, we just had a quick pipi stop and off we went in direction of my dear home town: Nice!

Based in a hotel near the airport, we arrived with no time for shower, just to leave our stuff and quickly celebrate some early Christmas with all the goodies Mavic gifted us; see right.

We went for dinner to quite a familiar place for me, I had gone there just 2 weeks earlier to celebrate a friend’s new born child with fellow cycling friends. We were at the Villa d’Este, and boy, what a dinner!

However, the best dish of the night was the chance to meet our amazing Mavic ambassadors Mike Cotty, Nicolas Roux and exPro Fränck Schleck who would join us for Saturday’s cycling sportive Paris-Nice Challenge. Quite a special treat not just because of the new cycling kit and honour to ride in such elite company, but also the fact that it was coming back to my first ever sportive and the one that preceded my other dream experience with the Team Skoda; more info about my first sportive here and Team Skoda here.

Since you won't have much from our dinner, what about some more photos of the day?
Dig in!

Ending the day charged with carbohydrates from the pasta and full of emotions from such a unique day, it was time to literally recharge the batteries… of my GoPros and phone in fact.

Only one thing was still to do, bed and good night!


Stay tuned! This is part of my Race to the Sun series where you can discover
how it was to live a Mavic VIP cycling weekend and yet again an unforgettable experience.
Follow me on my social media accounts for more.